Policy Briefs

Shall We Tell the President?

By Oseloka H. Obaze  

Nigeria’s democracy has advanced another year. Yet three years into President Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency, telling him and his team how well or badly the administration has fared, remains a hot-button issue. The opposition dwells on it. Nigerians regardless of social strata, consider it topical at the coffee table or buka joint. The polls try to stay neutral and reflective of the national consensus. Still as members of the ruling party and Buhari aficionados underline the accomplishments, they also upbraid anyone who says otherwise. 

On the cusp of a general election year, what is required is unvarnished assessments. Nigeria needs someone or persons who can tell the president the truth, but not in President Obasanjo’s self-serving ways. Indeed, PMB needs to know the state of play, as he seeks reelection, if indeed he wants to correct past mistakes and move the nation forward. 

To mark the president’s third anniversary in office, a public opinion poll conducted by NOIPolls in partnerships with Gallup (USA), evaluated ten critical governance and sectoral issues, and produced a cumulative result. The president did not reach the fifty percentile mark in any specific category.  

The president’s highest score was 43% on security and his lowest 12% on poverty alleviation. His other performance indicators ranged from 32% for corruption; 34% for agriculture; 25% for healthcare; 21% for infrastructure; 24% education; 16% for economy; and 15% for job creation. Overall, the cumulative average is not-too-heartwarming. Bluntly, it was non-stellar. For street voices in Nigeria there’s nothing to celebrate. Then again, we must also consider that subjective core areas like national cohesion, peace and stability, patriotism, dividends of democracy and trust were not even ranked. 

Looking forward, shall we tell the president he has not done so well without encountering a hard push back? Who will tell the president that our democracy, having arrived at the beyond nascent point, is experiencing de-consolidation. In my recently published book, Prime Witness – Change and Policy Challenges in Buhari’s Nigeria, policy performances relating to these ten categories, amongst others, were similarly evaluated, albeit, within the president’s first two years in office.

As I noted at a recent book presentation, my book, like every opinion poll, and constructive assessment seeks to “analyze evolving policies from the very onset of the Buhari administration; focusing on lessons learned, missed opportunities and choices before Nigeria.” Undertaking such assessment, more so, where it is non-partisan remains a national imperative. Yet any foray into that realm is not for the faint-hearted. 

On the balance, one must acknowledge on its face value, Minister Lai Mohammed’s contention that “President Buhari’s administration had achieved a lot in the delivery of dividends of democracy and campaign promises despite the challenges it encountered in the last three years. We are putting our nation on the path of sustainable growth an development, diversifying our economy like never before, tackling corruption at its very core and devising creative measures to secure life and property.” A cogent assessment; but one with equally cogent flip-side.

As I observed recently, Nigeria’s democracy is foundering on the issue of restructuring. The contending point; were Nigeria to be doing so well, the clamor and clangor for transformation and restructuring would be at a lower din and decibel. If our national debate and assessment of government is dichotomous, reasons for such disposition abound. 

Nigerians have become escapists in confronting critical national issues collectively. Now, expediency and convenience decree compartmentalization and sectionalism. Consequently, critical issues, “national questions, the quest for parity in resources, and attachment to identity” suddenly and conveniently become divisive, creating unwarranted dichotomy. Nonetheless, the assessment of any leadership, more so in a democracy cannot be avoided. 

The observations and conclusions in my book are broad and the concluding assessment pointed. Some who have read the book have chided my seeming empathy towards President Buhari. One in particular, a revered “Silk” hitherto a hard core Buhari supporter wrote, “It appears to me that the marks…ought to be less charitable and patronizing than you awarded.” My response is that my evaluation was of policies not personalities, even as both often intertwine and are fungible. 

Borrowing a paragraph from my book might address and clarify the interface. “Effective political leadership is generally perceived as one that delivers on it’s promises. Statesmanship, on the other hand, entails employing great tact in steering the affair of state and in better management of unanticipated crisis that other leaders would have in similar circumstances.” It’s pertinent to recall that even President Buhari’s biographer, when confronted with a heady question on Buhari’s presidency and leadership prospects, responded thus: “Whether he can achieve further political change in Nigeria is hard to predict.”

So as we look back to President Buhari’s three years in office and look to his next year or next five years, we must assess the state of play forthrightly, and with hope. Yakubu Mohammed hit the bullseye with this summation, “government usually gives hope that tomorrow would be better.” His views dovetail well into my closing summation in Prime Witness: “Buhari has the remaining part of his tenure to remediate his governance style and redeem his already damaged leadership image. He can do so by drastically altering his leadership style and running a much more inclusive government, where a crop of bipartisan skilled personalities can help him deliver his change agenda for Nigeria.”

Advisers around the president must accept that outside counsel or criticism have their salient value and merit. They must also recognize their unique role. They need to accept the ultimate public service dictum, paraphrased thus; “I have one master, Mr. President. I have one mistress, the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” They must serve both pari passu. That considered, shall we all resolve to tell the president the truth. Things ain’t as rosy as those in officialdom paint it. Nigeria and Nigerians can do better. And Nigerians remain hopeful. 

Here is the upshot of our present circumstances. As president, the buck stops at President Buhari’s desk. He is the one Nigerians elected to lead them. Not everyone who evaluates Buhari’s presidency constructively, or even trenchantly is a traducer, detractor or opposition. Most speak truth to power in order to better and save Nigeria. Many still believe in the president as a change agent. Yet the realization persist that for Nigeria, it is not yet eureka.  

Obaze is the author of a public policy book, Prime Witness- Change and Policy Challenges in Buhari’s Nigeria, published recently by Safari Book Ltd. 
Other puphished sources. 




Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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